Sonata cd by François Fowler
The lutenist Gregorio Huet (1550-1615), while little known today, was one of the finest composers of his own time. Though he was Flemish, he made his career in Germany, serving as a musician in Henry Julius's Wolfenbüttel court from 1590 until his death. In 1594 he met the English lutenist John Dowland, and the pair traveled together to Kassel to perform for other German nobility. The Landgrave of Hesse, in particular, praised Huet's playing and noted that he was unsurpassed in the composition of madrigals. Letters exchanged between the Landgrave and Huet's patron in Wolfenbüttel suggest that Dowland may have had a different opinion. The Englishman reportedly made some disparaging comments about his companion but later praised the "excellence of [Huet's] faculties" in his First Booke of Songes.
Only a dozen works by Huet have been preserved in manuscripts and printed collections, and all but one of these were composed for solo lute. The Fantasia heard on this recording was first published in Robert Dowland's Varietie of Lute-Lessons (1610). One theory is that Robert received the work from his father who copied the Fantasia during his travels with the composer. Musicians in Huet's era used the instrumental fantasy to showcase their compositional prowess. Because these works were not tied to any particular text or dance rhythm, the composer was free to let his imagination run wild. The Fantasia begins with a contrapuntal treatment of a melodic subject, which we hear introduced in all pitch registers and in a variety of textures. Huet frequently departs from the principal motive, however, writing extended passages that explore the harmonic possibilities of the instrument. The final passage, a lengthy excursion over a sequential pattern in the bass range, brings the Fantasia to a thrilling conclusion.
Unlike Huet's Fantasia, Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita in A minor (BWV 1013) is closely tied to the Baroque tradition of adapting dance music for instrumental works. A single manuscript copy of the Partita, produced in the 1720s, suggests that the work was composed during or soon after the composer's tenure as Kapellmeister (chapel master) to the Prince of Anhalt-Cöthen (1717-23). When Bach accepted the new position in Cöthen, he was looking forward to an increased salary and a musical environment that would allow his creativity to flourish. Thanks to the Prince's enthusiasm for instrumental music, Bach had an accomplished ensemble of performers at his disposal, and while at Cöthen he composed many of his greatest instrumental works, including The Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 846-69), the "Brandenburg" concertos (BWV 1046-51), six partitas and sonatas for solo violin (BWV 1001-6), and six suites for unaccompanied cello (BWV 1014-19). The Partita in A minor for flute, then, was most likely composed after Bach spent years experimenting with various instrumental forms and the idiomatic qualities of different instruments. Although the manuscript copy names the transverse flute, scholars have disagreed on the intended instrument of the Partita because the work itself is not always conducive to a performer who needs to breathe between phrases.
The Partita follows the sonata da camera (chamber sonata) format established by Arcangelo Corelli in the seventeenth century; each of its four movements (Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Bourrée anglaise) represents stylized dance types common to Baroque suites. The work contains no prelude or other introductory piece, a characteristic also found in Bach's "French" suites for keyboard and the Partitas in D minor and B minor for solo violin. The lack of an introductory movement, however, is not necessarily problematic; as writers of the era and the later eighteenth century note, the allemande can be used in place of a prelude. This particular allemande certainly fulfills that function. The echoing phrases and triadic melodies establish the tonality and character of the entire partita. The binary form of the movement is standard for dance pieces, but, uncharacteristically, the distinctive dance rhythms-heard in each of the remaining movements-are absent. The Corrente, with its variety of rhythmic activity and frequent hemiolas, quickly reminds us of the dance origins of these pieces. When transcribing this type of composition for a chordal instrument, guitarists will often add notes to clarify the harmony and emphasize the characteristic rhythms. In the Sarabande, for example, extra bass notes aid in accentuating the second beat of many measures. Likewise, editorial additions in the concluding Bourrée anglaise enhance the rustic character of this peasant dance.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart once proclaimed, "Bach is the father, we are the kids." His estimation may not seem surprising except that Mozart was referring not to Johann Sebastian Bach but to his second son, Carl Philipp Emanuel (1714-88). Proving to be the most accomplished of J.S. Bach's children, C.P.E.'s popularity exceeded his father's among eighteenth-century composers. Much of the younger Bach's success can be attributed to his ability to write music that appealed to a variety of audiences. In particular, Bach claimed that his compositions were suitable for the Kenner and the Liebhaber (the connoisseur and the amateur). To satisfy his audience, Bach composed keyboard pieces that could be performed by less proficient musicians but were also interesting enough to please the aficionados.
C.P.E. Bach's Sonata in F Major (H. 183) for keyboard was published as part of a collection of "Easy" (Leichte) sonatas in 1766. The relatively thin texture of the sonata poses few technical problems for amateur keyboardists, but the work is far from commonplace in its form and harmonic sophistication. Unlike the other sonatas in the collection, which follow simpler two-part structures, the Sonata in F Major opens with a through-composed form more common to the first movement of concertos and symphonies than the solo keyboard repertoire. In the final seven measures of this already remarkable movement, Bach forsakes the cheerful F major tonality for F minor. This sudden shift is startling, but Bach uses it to prepare the listener for the second movement. The Andantino demonstrates Bach's mastery of the sensitive style (emfindsamer Stil). Expressive gestures abound in the middle movement as Bach employs dissonant harmonies, unexpected modulations, and affective chains of suspensions. The Andantino concludes, albeit hesitantly, on a C major triad, again anticipating the next movement. Eighteenth-century audiences desired variety in their music, and Bach offers more than enough for any taste in the Presto. Eschewing smooth transitions, the abrupt juxtaposition of several contrasting styles exposes an ironic tone in Bach's conclusion. This finale just does not sound conclusive, and the short phrases and frequent rests may lead one to believe that the composer himself did not know where or how the sonata would end. Certainly both the Kenner and the Liebhaber could appreciate some humor in their music.
Two other transcriptions from keyboard sonatas present more characteristics of the younger Bach's genius. The Poco adagio from the Sonata in A Major (H. 186) is also an example of the empfindsamer Stil. Although C.P.E. Bach's music is considered by many to be a bridge between the baroque and classical eras, a distinct, romantic longing is evident throughout the movement. The principal feature of the piece is a florid melody that showcases a catalog of expressive gestures and ornaments. The deceptive cadences, accented chromatic tones, and dynamic contrasts all add to the rhetorical flavor of the adagio movement. The stormy conclusion of Bach's Sonata in B Minor (H. 182) is a more conventional finale than the Presto from the Sonata in F Major. The persistent gigue rhythm propels the music through balanced periods and four-measure phrases. Overall, the style of the movement recalls the many gigue-finales of Bach's godfather Georg Philipp Telemann. An intentionally awkward measure of silence, however, is Bach's reminder that conventions are established to be broken.
If any one composer could be attributed with establishing the conventions of the eighteenth-century keyboard sonata, it would be Domenico Scarlatti (1685-1757), who seemingly exhausted the compositional possibilities of the genre. For their beauty and breadth of expressive devices, his 555 sonatas for keyboard are comparable to the hundreds of concertos composed by Antonio Vivaldi, the sacred cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, or even the 600 secular cantatas of his father, Alessandro. Domenico was born soon after his father accepted a post as chapel master to the royal court in Naples, and he traveled throughout Italy during his childhood, absorbing the musical language of opera's birthplace. He found patronage in Rome, serving as maestro di capella to Maria Casimira, the exiled Queen of Poland, and in 1719 he arrived in Lisbon to assume a similar post with King João V of Portugal. Both of these positions required Scarlatti to focus his creativity on sacred vocal works and opera. In Portugal, however, Scarlatti taught keyboard to Princess Maria Barbera of Braganza, who later became Queen of Spain and Domenico's primary sponsor. When Scarlatti followed his patron to Spain, he was freed from many of his more public musical duties. Most of his keyboard sonatas were composed for the private entertainments enjoyed by the new Queen.
Sonata in A Major, K. 208, evokes the operatic tradition of Scarlatti's Italian heritage. The single-movement work is marked "andante cantabile" and opens with an appropriately song-like texture. To emphasize the operatic roots of this sonata, the lower voices provide consistent quarter-note pulses, imitating the strings and basso continuo that would normally accompany singers on the eighteenth-century operatic stage. K.208 follows Scarlatti's customary binary form, but at the beginning of the B section an unexpected modulation to the minor dominant darkens the bright character of the opening. The remainder of the B section sounds like a quest to regain the graceful cantabile heard at the beginning of the Sonata.
Much of Scarlatti's appeal to audiences of the eighteenth as well as the twenty-first century is his ability to capture the sounds of Spanish cities and their streets in many of his "indoor" keyboard sonatas. The Sonata in A minor, K. 175, for example, exhibits driving rhythms and dissonant chords that imitate the folk musicians that the Queen and her entourage would have heard when they ventured from the palace. One might even surmise that because of the percussive qualities of K. 175 and many of Scarlatti's other sonatas these works are better suited for the guitar than the keyboard. Although not a native Spaniard, Scarlatti recognized the expressive possibilities of adapting Spanish folk music in the works he composed for his royal patrons. In fact, when late nineteenth-century Spanish composers sought a nationalistic tone for their music, they often drew inspiration from the sonatas composed 150 years earlier by the Italian immigrant.
With guitar in hand, Augustín Barrios Mangoré (1885-1944) united the European heritage of South America with the popular music styles of his day. He was born in a small town in Paraguay and began studying classical guitar at a young age. Recognized as a child prodigy, he received a scholarship to continue his musical studies at the Colegio Nacional in Asunción where he also excelled in mathematics and literature. Barrios toured Latin America and Europe throughout his life, acquiring fame as a virtuosic performer and composer of inventive works. His output of more than 300 compositions for guitar includes numerous Iberoamerican dance styles, classical genres such as etudes, preludes, and barcaroles, and many characteristic pieces like La Catedral.
The three movements that make up La Catedral were not composed at the same time. Richard Stover, who has meticulously compiled Barrios's works and chronicled his life, writes that the composer penned the second and third movements of La Catedral in 1914 after an inspiring visit to the Cathedral of San Jose in Uruguay: Passing by the church one day, he heard from within the music of J. S. Bach being played on the mighty cathedral organ. The Andante Religioso represents this impression. Upon its termination, Barrios then leaves the serene, religious atmosphere of the cathedral and once again walks out into the busy street . . . the bustling, hurried temporal world. The Allegro Solemne represents this contrasting impression.
The relentless motor-rhythm of the Allegro is a wonderful contrast to the quiet intimacy of the Andante. When considered as a pair, however, the two movements evoke a French overture, a genre that Barrios may have encountered in his study of J. S. Bach's instrumental music and sacred cantatas. Barrios composed the first movement, Preludio Saudade, for his wife in 1938. In addition to its lush, Latin American harmonies and nostalgic character, the Saudade also brings to mind Bach's many instrumental preludes through its arpeggiated texture and delicate counterpoint. As a three movement work, La Catedral exhibits a perfect combination of Baroque forms, Latin American sounds, and idiomatic guitar writing.
Liner Notes - Randy Goldberg